With free agency about to get underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?
Boston Red Sox: Will they turn the power back on?
It was the Year of the Home Run, with pitches getting hit over outfield fences at a rate never before seen in baseball history.
Except in Boston.
Home runs are en vogue again, but the Red Sox missed the memo. In the first year of their post-David Ortiz era, they hit only 168 homers, fewest in the American League. Of the 74 players who hit at least 25 homers, none were part of the Red Sox’s lineup. Deposed manager John Farrell used seven different players in the cleanup spot, a testament to the fact that the team lacked a true middle-of-the-order power threat. As a result, the Sox scored 785 runs, a drop-off of 103 runs from 2016.
It’s little wonder, then, that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already made several public declarations that he’ll be shopping for offense this winter. Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez are the top names on the free-agent market, and they would fit into the Red Sox’s lineup as either a first baseman or designated hitter, respectively. And then there’s the really big fish: Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who is potentially available via a trade now that Derek Jeter is running things in South Florida. As the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry heats up once again, it would be hard for Boston to find a more suitable counter to Aaron Judge. — Scott Lauber
New York Yankees: Will it really be a quiet offseason?
This winter is one that might be looked upon as a quiet one for the Yankees, except for the fact they will add a new manager, could add the “Babe Ruth of Japan” and may make a trade or two. Yankees GM Brian Cashman is looking for an “A.J. Hinch-type” to connect with the team’s young players better than Joe Girardi could. Shohei Otani, the 23-year-old pitcher/outfielder, wants to come to the United States. As it stands now, if he does, he will not receive a huge contract because of the new collective bargaining agreement rules. That means the Yankees could have as good a chance as anyone to land him. Otani could be a sixth starter for the Yankees, while DHing and playing some outfield.
The Yankees will look to re-sign CC Sabathia, but for far less than the $25 million that the big lefty made in 2017. They will talk with Todd Frazier‘s representatives, but with Chase Headley already signed for 2018 it is unclear how much they will offer Frazier to play third. The Yankees could look to trade Headley, Starlin Castro and Jacoby Ellsbury.
So, as usual, although the Yankees might have a quiet winter, there is a caveat. Sure, it will be quiet, unless it is not. — Andrew Marchand
Tampa Bay Rays: Can they unload some big contracts?
The Rays are looking to subtract payroll this winter from a club that finished 80-82, the Tampa Bay Times reported. With the young talent on the Red Sox and Yankees, this will likely again make it difficult for the Rays to compete for the AL East in 2018.
If the Rays are going to do anything to add, it is likely they will need to unload some big contracts from a payroll that was $80 million last season. The Rays have already given 30-year-old Alex Cobb the qualifying offer. If he accepts, he will make $17.4 million in 2018, which is more than anyone in the franchise’s history. The Rays, surely, hope he declines and signs as a free agent so they receive a compensatory pick.
If Cobb comes back, the Rays will have even more of a financial need to subtract, because with Cobb, Evan Longoria ($13.5 million), Wilson Ramos ($10.5 million), Chris Archer ($6.25 million), Kevin Kiermaier ($5.5 million) and Nathan Eovaldi ($2 million), the Rays would have six players signed for more than $50 million. That combined with 13 players eligible for arbitration and Tampa will be looking to shed payroll rather than add. — Marchand
Edwin Encarnacion departed via free agency last winter. Jose Bautista is out after his $17 million option for next season wasn’t picked up. And now, the Blue Jays have reached a crossroads with Josh Donaldson, the third big bopper in what once was the most feared lineup in the American League.
Donaldson is one year away from becoming a free agent, so the Jays can go one of three ways: (A) Go through the arbitration process with Donaldson once more and have him enter his walk year as their third baseman; (B) Sign Donaldson now to a long-term contract extension that would take him off a potentially massive 2018-19 free-agent market that could also include Bryce Harper and Manny Machado; (C) Trade Donaldson before the season and commence with a full-scale rebuild in Toronto.
Jays officials have indicated that Option C is unlikely. They undoubtedly will broach the subject of a long-term deal for Donaldson, who turns 32 in December. But if they’re unable to reach any agreement before the season and things go south on the Jays in an AL East that is being increasingly dominated again by the Yankees and Red Sox, it wouldn’t be surprising if Donaldson is on the move before next July 31. — Lauber
That’s the prodigious question facing the Baltimore Orioles this winter.
Given the way the O’s have behaved at the trade deadline in recent years — they’re routinely a seller in buyer’s clothing — folding seems unlikely. What’s more, GM Dan Duquette is in the final year of his contract (as is skipper Buck Showalter), and going all in makes for a much sexier swan song than going all “Hamilton” and planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.
So as much sense as it makes for Baltimore to flip superstar Manny Machado, who becomes a free agent in a year, for lots of prospects this offseason, it probably won’t happen (dealing closer Zach Britton seems slightly more likely given the team’s bullpen depth). Just like Duquette landing a couple blue-chip starting pitchers in free agency probably won’t happen either. Instead, he’ll raid the clearance rack one last time. If those bargains pan out and the Birds are lucky enough to be sniffing their fourth playoff appearance in four even years come July, it’ll be buy time once again. If not, Duquette better start planting. — Eddie Matz